Medical practices that have about 40% of the patients in a particular market would likely have to expand into other markets or open satellite clinics to grow. But for the many physicians who could use more patients, there are various to increase market share. It can be done by knowing your market and reaching out to both referral sources and patients.

Barbara Findlay Schenck, author of “Branding for Dummies,” said a practice can begin by looking at the total population in the area, then obtaining demographic information online from the U.S. Census Bureau or from community resources.

For instance, a community might have 100,000 people, of whom 20% are men over age 50 years. Half of those men might need urology treatment, and physicians could potentially treat 40% of those.

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One potential source of patients is direct competitors (e.g., other specialists), Findlay Schenck said. Specialists should look at who they are losing business to and figure out why. Is it because they have better equipment, lower fees, better quality, or better affiliations?

Marc Halley, founder, president and CEO of Westerville, Ohio-based Halley Consulting Group, emphasized the importance of staying in the referral path from primary care providers and hospitals and ancillary services. “For specialists, the most important customer is the referring physician,” he said.

A good way to stay in the good graces of primary care providers is to take great care of their patients, he said. By the time patients get back to the primary care physician, they should be saying they are so thrilled with the specialist that the doctor will send a referral the next time.

 “If they say, ‘The doctor didn’t listen to me, and the staff was rushed and didn’t understand what you wanted them to do, and they didn’t answer my calls and, by the way, look at my new scar,’” that puts the PC in a bad place and you won’t get the next referral,” he said.

The next key is access. When primary care providers want to have a patient seen, they want this as soon as possible. “Make it easy for them to get their patient in,” he said. “If not, you are forcing them to go somewhere else that will act like they want their business.”

Finally, physicians need to ensure good communication. Although hospitalist programs have ended rounding on patients in many communities, specialists still have to make sure they meet the needs of the patient, and in turn, the primary care provider.

Halley recommends that specialists maintain contact by phone or online to make sure they are doing what the primary care provider wants. That entails understanding how he or she likes to be contacted. Some primary care doctors will want a phone call before the consult.

Others will be too busy and prefer receiving a note they can write instructions down. Halley said specialists should create a profile of each physician they work with. When a referral is provided, they should consult that profile, review the referring doctors’ preferences, and respond accordingly.

Specialists’ referral path can be impacted dramatically if their referring physicians are acquired by a competing hospital. Halley said he works with a group of oncologists that was not paying attention when a hospital purchased primary care providers and hired its own oncologists. They lost 40% of their referrals in a 3-month period. Specialists should try to align with the hospitals that are growing and purchase primary care providers.

“You don’t have to be employed, but you can approach the hospital and ask to be their go-to for subspecialty care,” he said.

According to Findlay Schenck, specialists might consider establishing relationships with providers who offer complementary care, such naturopathic physicians.

Specialists also should address what she calls “phantom competitors” that are barriers to patients coming to them, such as lack of insurance or individuals’ fear of seeing a doctor.

If there is a large naturopathic practice in the community, specialists should contact them to see if the practice would like to participate in a panel discussion on a topic like prostate cancer. This approach could help reach people who may otherwise be afraid of coming in for testing.